Thanksgiving is over and now it is time for Hanukkah! I realized that I haven’t posted about Hanukkah books for 3 years and with a slew of fresh, new books coming out this season, it seemed about darn time. Here are a number of books that are relatively new to the scene to help us bring in the festival of lights.
We all know that Hanukkah is the festival of lights, but Rabbi Kerry Olitzky and his son, Rabbi Jesse Olitzky, have given us a story told from the perspective of the candles. On one hand, The Littlest Candle is a story about Hanukkah, but on the other, it is written by 2 rabbis so lets be serious, there is a moral lesson included. In the story, all of the candles are vying to be the candle for the first night. Little Flicker is the only one not trying to get the job. As each candle proclaims why they should be first, Little Flicker backs them up. His comments make each candle recall all of the things that Little Flicker has done for them. You will have to read more to know how it ends. I will throw in here that my 10 year old thinks this is a great book. (ages 4-8)
I am also excited that this is the first book of a new imprint called Kalaniot, aimed at introducing young readers to the rich mosaic of Jewish culture and history. I did receive a free copy of this book to review, but all opinions are my own.
The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol is a fascinating book with an equally interesting backstory. Author Arther Levine discusses how giving gifts at Hanukkah is a uniquely American thing that has grown over time. He also looks at the fact that many Christmas stories have no religion to them, but instead celebrate the mythical Santa Claus. There are no stories with mythical Jews, other than SNL’s Hanukkah Harry. This story brings Nate Gadol to life, a spirit who can make anything last as long as it is needed, like oil for 8 nights. We follow the Glaser family who emigrated to the US around the turn of the century. They befriend an Irish family and Nate Gadol finds a way to save Hanukkah. This is a great new nonreligious story for Hanukkah fun. (Ages 4-10)
Another new fun one that is especially good as a holiday read-aloud, especially for areas with a small Jewish population, is Shmelf the Hanukkah Elf. It is the story of one of Santa’s elves who is very concerned when a number of “nice” kids are left off of his gift list. When he is told that it is because they are Jewish, he doesn’t understand and goes to investigate. Like many children, Shmelf can’t understand the concept of someone NOT celebrating Christmas. But Shmelf finds a joyous family lighting candles, playing dreidel, and feasting on good foods. When the mother tells the story of the Maccabees, Shmelf stays to listen. When he returns to talk to Santa about this, he gets tasked with the job of focusing on Jewish children, not to bring them gifts, but to bring “magic and joy.” I found this a very sweet book showing that Jews aren’t that different and family is important to all of us. (Ages 4-10)
Latkes for Santa Claus is an important book for blended families as well as interfaith families. Anna is excited that Santa will be visiting her house for the first time, and she wants to leave Santa a treat that blends the holidays her new family celebrates: Christmas and Hanukkah. Anna expresses this idea to her stepbrother, Michael, who insists that Santa doesn’t need anything but his sugar cookies. Anna imagines Santa has to be bored with cookies by now and is determined to find a Jewish recipe that he’ll enjoy. The catch? It has to be something easy for Santa to grab and go. In this humorous and endearing picture book, blending both Christmas and Hannukah, a little girl and her stepbrother compete to leave Santa the best treats ever. (age 4 – 8)
I am not sure how this started, but if the term Llamakkah and accompanying merchandise has become a big thing. Laura Gehl has gotten onto the bandwagon with her book Happy Llamakkah! Follow along with the Llama family’s Hanukkah traditions as they light their menorah, spin the dreidel, fry latkes, and more. Laura Gehl’s lively rhyming text and Lydia Nichols’s vibrant illustrations make for a festive read. The book also features kid-friendly back matter, with expanded information on the holiday’s history and traditions. (preschool)
There was a Young Rabbi is a playful take on “there was an old woman who swallowed a fly.” In this sweet book children get to join the young rabbi as she makes festive preparations―spinning the dreidel, cooking a tasty meal, lighting the menorah, and more―in this cumulative, rhyming story reminding readers of the Hanukkah miracle of long ago! Learn about Hanukkah’s festivities and rituals, and about the Jewish holiday itself. (age 4-9)
The Eight Knights of Hanukkah – It’s the last night of Hanukkah and everyone is doing their part for the big celebration, but a dragon called Dreadful has other ideas. He roams the countryside, interrupting the party preparations. Lady Sadie must call upon the Eight Knights of Hanukkah to perform deeds of awesome kindness and stupendous bravery and put an end to the dragon’s shenanigans. (age 4-8)
One of the newer traditions for Hanukkah has been to add a 9th night where children give back. Not to their parents, but to their community. A big part of Judaism is taking care of others and the earth, so this fits nicely into that concept. Erica S. Perl has turned this concept into a great picture book, The Ninth Night of Hanukkah. It’s Hanukkah, and Max and Rachel are excited to light the menorah in their family’s new apartment. But, unfortunately, their Hanukkah box is missing. So now they have no menorah, candles, dreidels, or, well, anything! Luckily, their neighbors are happy to help, offering thoughtful and often humorous stand-in items each night. And then, just as Hanukkah is about to end, Max and Rachel, inspired by the shamash (“helper”) candle, have a brilliant idea: they’re going to celebrate the Ninth Night of Hanukkah as a way to say thanks to everyone who’s helped them! (age 4+)
Kugel for Hanukkah is a lively story about a little girl celebrating the eight nights of Hanukkah with her family. Every night, her family lights the candles, says a blessing, and eats fancy latkes. Grandma and the girl both get gift, and each night brings a surprise — although not the one she’s hoping for. The tone is set early on: “I lit the shamash and the first candle. Grandma said the blessing. Then we feasted on crispy potato latkes with sweet applesauce.” Her grandmother gets a gift of candied cranberries; the little girl, wanting a pet, instead gets a lamp. At the end, the grandmother combines all of her gifts to make the girl’s favorite treat — kugel (noodle casserole, traditionally eaten during Passover). Later, we see that each of the child’s gifts relates to the surprise she receives on the last night: a new pet. A sweet story. As a parent I just have to say, oy, the smell of latkes in their house must be insane! We make them one night 🙂 (age 4-9)
Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas is a sweet and humorous picture book with a multicultural twist. Sadie has an Indian mom and a Jewish dad, so some traditions have evolved so that the family can celebrate Hanukkah while incorporating traditional Indian food. Instead of latkes, this family celebrates Hanukkah with tasty Indian dosas. To her brother’s chagrin, little Sadie won’t stop climbing on everything both at home and at the Indian grocery store, even while preparing the dosas. As the family puts the finishing touches on their holiday preparations, they accidentally get locked out of the house. Sadie and her climbing skills just may be exactly what is needed to save the day. (age 4-8)
Ann Koffsky has written a few picture books that feature the spunky Kayla and her dog Kugel. In Kayla and Kugle Celebrate Hanukkah, Kayla is preparing for Hanukkah. She and Kugel go searching for the family’s Hanukkah box and mischief ensues. Young children will be delighted as Kayla lights the menorah, plays dreidel, and shares the story of how the holiday came to be. (age 4 – 8)
Esther Susan Heller brings us something very unique with Menorah Under the Sea. Heller follows marine biologist, David Ginsburg, as he goes on a dive in Antarctica. Ginsburg is Jewish and he wasn’t sure how he was going to be able to celebrate Hanukkah as the sun doesn’t go down in Antarctica in December. The title of this book comes from the creative way he decides to celebrate Hanukkah under the sea. Filled with great photos from the McMurdo Station as well as from under the water. (ages 4-10)
For older kids, The Miracle Jar is a story that focuses on the miracle of the oil by showing a family that is desperately trying to stretch the little oil that they have. Written in 2008, this does have an older feel to it, but it is still a sweet story. I especially appreciate the fact that the children do good deeds around the house as gifts for their parents. (ages 4-10)
For older books, check out these posts….